New York, Edinburgh, London and Sydney are cities that are synonymous with some of the world’s best New Year’s Eve celebrations. At midnight on December 31st 2013, a new city joined the list: Cape Town. In what was billed as ‘Africa’s biggest free party’ more than 100,000 revellers ushered in the New Year in the city’s streets with fireworks, laser shows, DJs, dancing and a 3D visual tribute to Nelson Mandela. The city had good reason to welcome 2014 in style – this year has shaped up to be a truly transformative one in Cape Town.
Cape Town’s New Year’s Eve celebrations were particularly flamboyant as the city welcomed in its new role as World Design Capital for 2014. World Design Capital is awarded bi-annually to cities which recognise design as a tool for social, cultural and economic development. Cape Town’s winning bid and subsequent events programme have focused on the central theme of ‘Live Design. Transform Life.’ and seek to utilise the role that design can play in social transformation, and in particular in addressing Apartheid legacies. Projects are organised into four broad themes: projects that bridge historic divides, reconnect the city in structure and in spirit, rebuild social and economic inclusion, and reposition Cape Town for a sustainable future.[i]
Cape Town is the first city from a developing nation to win the award and is making the most of the opportunity. When 2014 comes to a close, Cape Town will have hosted over 460 design projects and offered a packed calendar of events including fashion shows, open houses and artists’ studios, street food festivals, guided walking tours, a month of photography, and even a global doodling contest.
International exhibitions such as Decorex International and Design Indaba have made their way to the city this year. Longer term projects are also being launched, from the creation of ecovillages and sustainable city-farms, to research projects which consider housing issues in marginalized precincts, to the creation of new cultural tourism destinations.
But it is not just World Design Capital which is making 2014 a great year for Cape Town. The city has also been awarded WWF’s prestigious Earth Hour Award this year in recognition of its pioneering actions to combat climate change. Cape Town beat over 160 other cities for the award, and was commended for its bold steps in both transitioning towards renewable energy and in improving energy efficiency. It has recently rolled out a solar water heating programme, engaged in a major retro-fitting scheme for streetlights and buildings, and enhanced community engagement on sustainability issues.
The Earth Hour Award does not only consider achievements made to date, but also takes into account a city’s desire and determination to make further progress. Cape Town is making its green ambitions very clear. This year it joined the C40 Climate Leadership Group, and is working towards an ambitious target of 10% of its total electricity supply being met by renewable or cleaner energy by 2020. The city is also one of only 3% of African cities which reports and verifies its carbon actions through the carbon Cities Climate Registry.
Cape Town is well accustomed to receiving accolades for its natural assets and tourist offerings. The special events of 2014, paired with the city’s usual international events fixtures such as the Two Oceans Marathon and International Jazz Festival, are drawing even more attention to the city as a tourist destination. The New York Times, for example, has named Cape Town the best place in the world to visit in 2014.
But perhaps the greatest significance of 2014 for Capetonians themselves is the fact that the year marks the twentieth anniversary of the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Cape Town is using that milestone to show the world how far it has come.